By W.T. Edwards
Photos by Zack Gross
All photos taken at Media Bureau/MBN Studios. Special thanks to Keith Andrew Cohen and Ben Barnett
It was an early Saturday evening when I met up with Philadelphia artist Jillian Kesselman. With an auditory backdrop of Misfits (both the band and patrons), The Streets and a myriad of other ruckus bands playing on the jukebox, we sat at Tattooed Mom on South Street in a back corner and chatted over a couple of beers. Jillian is an illustrator whose work has appeared in various exhibits about the city, band flyers, event posters, and your very own Origivation Magazine.
Jillian was born and raised in Philadelphia where she earned her BFA degree at the University of the Arts in 2007. In addition to her major in Illustration, Jillian minored in art education, which I found she has been putting to good use. She teaches art classes of various mediums at senior centers, The Philadelphia Art Museum and local community centers.
I got the impression from Jillian that she liked working with her senior classes a great deal. She appreciates how there were students with all levels of art experience, from those who have never worked with paint before to art teachers themselves. “You don’t have to worry about discipline issues [with senior citizens],” she says. “No running with scissors.”
To get a sense of where Jillian acquired her flair for creativity, I asked about her family background and if she hailed from artistic roots. “That’s a very good question because that’s where it all started,” she says.
Jillian comes from an artistic family background. Her mother is a dance teacher, choreographer and interior designer. Her father: A carpenter. It’s Jillian’s brother though, that really instilled in her an inspiration for art. He was an avid comic collector who began drawing his own comics with characters that he created at a young age. Jillian’s brother passed away when she was 14. He was only 19. “It started then. I drew for the first time,” Jillian says. “I just thought that we have to continue this… So I started then, and I’ve been drawing ever since.”
Jillian’s work is a constant reflection of her positive outlook. Inspired by other artists such as Jillian Tamaki, Camilla Engman, and Peter Max, Jillian’s pieces are a wonderful composite of nature, folklore, and human emotion.
While her collections are all different, she maintains that through all of her work, she wants to portray a positive message. “I’m attracted to positive things. So when I create my art I try to pick out a positive piece of a story.” She stated that she feels that her art becomes a part of her and if she focuses too closely on a sad or negative aspect, it can seriously affect her mood.
Presumably from her interest is gardening; Jillian fantastically captures nature in her work as she finds it to be an ever-evolving conduit in which to express her positive message. Jillian went on to tell me a personal allegory of her connection with nature. She explained that one day recently she was walking through a meadow at about dusk when she came across a lone deer grazing on some shrubbery. Jillian ended up having to get close to the deer and strangely it didn’t run. She looked at the deer and it stared back at her. “I felt like there was a mutual trust,” she says. It’s unique experiences such as these that appear to be an influence to Jillian and is portrayed through her work.
By taking snapshots of the environments that Jillian finds herself, she is able to recreate an existence in print for which she envelops her characters. Many of these characters are derived from folklore of other cultures. One series that Jillian has completed was based on the Japanese fairy tale, “My Lord a Bag of Rice.” In the tale, a warrior is commissioned with the task of killing a monstrous centipede. Jillian illustrates this wonderfully through a modern artists eye while still capturing an old world feel. The series combines interesting, woodcarving like detail with fluid undertones and backgrounds that take you to a story told in a different time. All the while, Jillian manages to include text from the actual tale to further draw the viewer into this ancient story.
Jillian is currently being featured with her boyfriend, Scott Ratinoff, also a local artist at MBN Studios in the Northern Liberties section of the city. The exhibit includes works that Jillian and Scott collaborated on as well as their individual work. Pieces on display include original paintings, collages, and illustrations.